Ronaldo gets 1st Asian Champions League goal. Saudi team refuses to play in Iran over statue dispute

Updated Oct. 2, 2023 8:06 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first goal in the Asian Champions League in Al-Nassr's 3-1 win over Istiklol on Monday to shift attention back to soccer after an earlier match between Sepahan of Iran and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad was controversially canceled.

The Saudi club did not take to the field at Naghsh-e-Jahan Stadium in Isfahan because of busts of Gen. Qassem Soleimani — who commanded Iran’s elite Quds Force before he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in neighboring Iraq in January 2020 — and other political banners, Saudi Arabia’s Al Ekhbariya TV reported.

Soleimani was seen as playing a key role in arming, training and leading armed groups across the region, including fighters from the Houthi rebel group in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has been at war with the Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen since 2015.

Three busts of Soleimani were placed on the sideline at the Iranian stadium. After around a 30-minute delay, the Saudi league champions, whose stars include N’Golo Kante and Fabinho, left the stadium where an estimated 60,000 fans were waiting.


The Asian Football Confederation said in a statement that the Group C match was canceled “due to unanticipated and unforeseen circumstances,” without elaborating. The match has been initially classified as postponed.

Another Saudi club, Al-Hilal, which is a four-time winner of the Asian continental title, was scheduled to play Nassaji Mazandaran in Tehran on Tuesday.

Al-Nassr took control against Tajikistan's Istiklol in the second half at Riyadh. Ronaldo, who joined the club in December, equalized with a delicate chip midway through the second half. Senin Sebai had put Istiklol ahead just before the break.

Ronaldo scored for the seventh successive game, and then two goals in quick succession from Brazilian forward Anderson Talisca gave Al-Nassr the win.

Al-Nassr, still searching for a first continental championship, is top of Group E with six points from two games, three above Persepolis. The Iranian club beat Al-Duhail of Qatar 1-0.

Elsewhere, Nasaf Qarshi of Uzbekistan maintained its perfect start in Group B with a 3-1 win over Qatar’s Al-Sadd, while Al-Faisaly lost 1-0 at Sharjah.

Only the 10 group winners and the six best-performing runners-up will progress to the next stage.


AP soccer: